01 July 2011

Kelly Cherry. Girl in a Library: On Women Writers and the Writing Life. Kansas City, MO: BkMk Press, 2009.

photo from Barnes & Noble

Kelly Cherry, a resident of Halifax County, was recently named Virginia’s poet laureate, so when I picked up her 2009 publication, Girl in a Library, I expected a book of poetry. I am embarrassed to say that I usually run away from the genre, so I was a bit apprehensive to review the book for this blog. Fortunately, I looked closer to read the subtitle – On Women Writers & the Writing Life – and realized that I was wrong.

Rather than being a work of complex poems, Cherry’s Girl in a Library is part memoir, part exploration of life, self, history, gender, art, philosophy – anything, really.

We learn about her (gangster) childhood in an apartment above a grocery store in Ithaca, New York, and her parents’ initial reaction to her desire to become a writer, her unusual first year of college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and how a dean (at a different college) made it possible for her to return to higher education, and her decision to write books of poetry after her first novel. She discusses how much she enjoys teaching. Cherry also shares with her readers details of her failed first marriage but also of her happy union today.

At the same time, Cherry writes about fellow writers and their use of characters, time, and settings. She explores the field of literature and what it means to be a female in that world. She questions what it means to be a Southern writer. Truth be told, there were some essays that delved into concepts too complex for me, but it was still a very worthwhile read.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog is her description of her time in Virginia, especially Southside. Cherry spent her adolescence in Chesterfield County and was a student at both the University of Mary Washington and the University of Virginia before beginning her professional career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970s. While she has spent much of her life in the South, in the essay “The Globe and the Brain: On Place in Fiction,” Cherry describes her own struggle with writing “southern stories,” calling on Eudora Welty and William Faulkner for inspiration. It truly is a fascinating study in the significance and mystery of Place.

In her retirement, Cherry and her husband bought a small farm in Halifax, which she calls a “pleasure.” Her 2007 book of poetry, Hazard and Prospect, highlights her time in Virginia and points to the influence that her Halifax homestead and the Southside landscape has had on her.

Find Girl in a Library in the Charlotte County Library catalog.

Have you read Girl in a Library? Please share your opinion about the book and this summary.

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